With more and more businesses investing in mobile-app design services, it is clear that any company needs to design and develop an app to reach its users. This requires experimenting with different design ideas to see what works best. What is the role of prototyping in UX design? Prototyping lets your UX team try out several design ideas.
In this article, I’ll discuss the basics of prototyping, its importance, and several different types of prototyping that you could employ. I’ll help you understand how to develop a prototype and some best practices for building an effective prototype.
What Is a Prototype?
Before jumping directly into exploring the role of prototyping in UX design, I’ll provide a short overview of what prototyping means. Prototyping is not an easy process. A prototype is a basic version or simulation of a product that helps UX teams test an app’s design long before launch.
A UX team might develop a number of prototypes to test and validate their design ideas and app designs before presenting them to their business stakeholders. Once all the stakeholders approve a design, the UX team passes the final designs on to the development team to help them get started building an app.
All prototypes share four key qualities that differentiate different prototyping approaches from each other, as follows:
precision—This is the prototype’s level of detail: high fidelity or low fidelity.
interactivity—This describes the features and functionality to which users have access during the testing phase: view only, partially functional, or fully functional.
evolution—This refers to the prototype’s complete lifecycle—for example, in rapid prototyping, a test prototype quickly gets replaced.
Why Are Prototypes Important?
Now, let’s consider the role of prototyping in UX design.
Streamlining Your Design Process
Since prototypes offer tangible visuals of the complete user journey and user interactions, they enable the design team to discover any design flaws, well before the development team starts building the app. This helps businesses save a lot of time, resources, and effort over the long run. Moreover, prototyping is a great way of eliciting stakeholders’ opinions and enables better coordination between designers and developers.
Visually Testing User Flows
Another crucial aspect of prototyping in UX design is the ability to visualize and test user flows. It is widely known that user experience is key to the success of apps. Visualizing their user flows can help UX designers understand how an app will work. For your UX team to understand whether the implemented user flows work well, they must have expertise in collecting user feedback and developing user personas. Only in this way can they develop an app with optimized, highly effective user flows and provide a superior user experience.
Getting Stakeholder Feedback Early
Before you launch a new app or make any changes to an existing app, you must always get stakeholder approval. Prototypes are great tools for helping stakeholders visualize the end product before they sign off on the design. This is a great way to get their feedback and make any necessary changes before passing the design on to the development team. Thus, the role of prototyping is crucial in UX design because it helps ensure that an app is in line with business goals and clear up any confusion about the app’s scope.
Identifying Design Issues
Prototyping can help UX designers observe users’ interactions and quickly identify any design issues. Their main concern must be to understand whether the design is effective and accessible to users. Prototyping is an iterative process that helps UX teams identify potential future roadblocks and modify their designs before the app gets developed.
Collaborating and Communicating Efficiently
Since a prototype is a visual tool, it facilitates better collaboration between UX designers, software developers, and stakeholders. This enables teams to visualize the end product, communicate design ideas, and provide feedback to ensure the product better matches business goals. Thus, the role of prototyping in UX design is crucial in ensuring that the final product effectively meets both business goals and user needs.
What Are Some Useful Prototyping Methods?
UX teams can design and iterate on their prototypes whenever an existing prototype requires any changes. Now, let’s look at some of the most useful prototyping methods.
Low-fidelity prototypes represent user flows using wireframes. UX research teams use them to outline basic user flows. They help UX teams understand an app’s information architecture and visualize how to display content to users. Since low-fidelity prototypes are less well-defined than high-fidelity prototypes, they are particularly useful at the beginning of the project lifecycle. Some examples of low-fidelity prototypes include the following:
Although low-fidelity prototypes have a lot of drawbacks, they also offer many benefits. They are fast, easy, and affordable to visualize and create. Their worst drawbacks are that they are neither interactive nor visually appealing.
These free-form, pen-or-pencil drawings help UX designers figure out their initial design ideas. Sketches can help spark discussions about a project’s goals or an app’s usability. Moreover, creating sketches is quick and easy, and they can help designers understand complete user flows.
Although paper prototypes incorporate sketches, UX designers use cardboard or plastic stencils to help create them. Sometimes, UX design teams also use Post-It notes to emulate interactive elements and better represent the app’s design and user flows.
In the early stages of design, UX teams need to collaborate on several design ideas quite quickly, exploring lots of concepts. So designers prefer to draw simple sketches by hand, using lines, shapes, and text. Here, the main focus is not on the details of the app’s visual interface design, but on the functionalities to include in the user journey.
To visualize user flows, UX designers can lay out the paper screens sequentially on a table or whiteboard. Sometimes, a designer from the team plays the role of the user in explaining the app’s complete user flow and replicates how a real user would interact with the end product.
When designing Web pages or the screens of a mobile app, click-through prototypes link the different screen designs together through hotspots, so they are a bit more advanced version of a low-fidelity prototype.
High-Fidelity Digital Prototyping
High-fidelity digital prototypes closely resemble the actual design of the end product. They let UX teams test and validate their designs and user flows.
High-fidelity prototypes are considerably more advanced than their low-fidelity counterparts, so they help designers realize their design concepts in greater detail. They are more aesthetically pleasing and can include functionality that is closer to that of the final product. Once a UX team has a clear idea of what stakeholders and users want, they are ready to design high-fidelity prototypes. These prototypes can aid in testing detailed user flows. Some common types of high-fidelity prototypes include the following:
digital prototypes that are created using prototyping software
Interactive prototypes are more advanced versions of click-through prototypes that a UX team can build using an application that implements interactivity. These medium-fidelity visual designs can represent the screens of entire workflows, similar to paper prototypes. Not only are these prototypes clickable and responsive, they also allow product teams and stakeholders to visualize animations and screen transitions. Another advantage of interactive prototypes is that they are much more aesthetically pleasing than low-fidelity prototypes.
Digital Prototypes That Are Created Using Prototyping Software
UX teams commonly use these prototypes to finalize their designs before passing them on to the development team. They let UX designers build interactive, aesthetically rich product prototypes that are very realistic looking and help the UX team test the interactive elements, which is the primary aim of prototyping in UX design.
There is no one process that you must follow to design the most effective prototype for your business. However, it must be compatible with the needs of both your app design and the business. Early in the design phase, creating low-fidelity prototypes would be a good idea. They are fast, cheap, and easy to modify, which prevents your UX team from wasting time on insignificant design details. High-fidelity prototypes are the obvious choice one you are further into the design process and want to move on to testing the user flows.
Atman co-founded CMARIX TechnoLabs, a leading Web and mobile-app development company in Kuwait. He has more than 16 years of experience developing applications. Atman loves writing about technology, startups, entrepreneurship, and business. His creative abilities, academic track record, and leadership skills have made him a key industry influencer as well. Read More